Monday, June 15, 2015

Boss Baby

Very excited to be joining back with familiar faces and getting the chance to work on Dreamworks Boss Baby.  Been with the show for a little over a month now, things just starting to get into production....loving it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Peabody & Sherman Process

For this post I'll be talking mostly about the first scene of Peabody saying 'I Love You' to Sherman.  I was fortunate enough to be able to animate both this scene and the b side shot of Sherman reacting.  This shot was much more focused on the facial performance, basically its just one pose in the body, with many poses going on in the face.  The range overall is a lot more subtle and contained, but even with up close, subtle shots, all the same rules and principles will still apply, and my process is quite similar to a shot where I’m dealing with the entire body.

Jason Schleifer, who did work on Gollum for the first Lord of the Rings, later came to Dreamworks and did a lot of the work on Julian for the first Madagascar.  Pretty much polar opposites in terms of style and look.

He's of course done much, much more since then, but back when he was still sitting amongst us lowly animators, I asked him once ‘how do you go from animating something so focused on realism, then come and do something so pushed the movement feels completely inventive, but of course still believable.

He said, and I still remind myself of this often, that its all the same.  The same principles still apply, just in realism all those principles of overlap, squash and stretch, secondary motion, are a fraction of what they are when we do something cartoony and are pushing those principles around to have something funny and caricatured.

For this shot I really wanted to pay attention the believability and subtleties of Peabodys performance so the audience could connect to the emotion of the moment.  Not sure how effective it was, but thats at least what I wanted to do with the scene.  Its not a shot that lends itself to thumbnailing it out first, so I went straight to reference.

In the past when I’ve had an emotional shot, say where one of the characters needs to feel like they’re crying, I’ve tried things like dousing my eyes with eyedrops in order to have them swell up and look as IF I was crying, or about to cry, before shooting my reference.  I wasn’t really planning on any character crying, or about to cry, for this scene.  

What I needed to convey in Peabody is that this wasn’t an easy thing for him to do.  He’s not the type of character that says soft, emotional things like ‘I love you’, but at this point he needed to.  It was a line that didn’t want to come out, but because of all the things these two characters have just been through over the course of the film, he needed to say it, and needed Sherman to hear him say it.  

Maybe it was because I was about to have a son myself (my wife was 8 months pregnant when I was working on this seq), but I did a take where I completely lost myself for a brief moment.  For a split second, I worried about Sherman, thought of his cute face and big spiky hair, his oversized glasses, and goofy smile, and thought how much it would hurt to never see him again.  My eyes started to well up and I actually wanted to start crying, but held it back.  Because men don't cry!

I tried to build on this take and do it again, seeing if I could get a better version, but I couldn’t fake the honesty that I feel I found in that one particular take.  Showed that to the director and he luckily gave me the go ahead to move in that direction with the scene.

It originally cut back to Sherman right after he said that line, like right on the nose.  In my reference I did this small breath at the end that I felt was important to stay on Peabody for.  For me it gave us a sense of what he was saying to Sherman meant to him, and that he wanted Sherman to know how important he was to Mr. Peabody.  Got the buy off on that and we extended the scene for an extra beat.  Small victory, but I was glad they went for it.

So now, how do you dissect this reference of small changes in the face and hardly anything going on in the body?  Well if you look close, theres a lot going on.  I looked for small changes in the head angles, when the nose nodded down, when it nodded up, when the brows tensed up, when did the blinks happen, when did the mouth press together, when did the jaw drop, etc etc.  All these little things are the same as an arm move or a change in angle of the torso.  They’re just all contained within the characters face.  But most importantly, what did each key I was looking for mean to the scene, and how did it drive the acting and movement I was intending to go for?  Did a brow raise initiate a head movement, or did a blink initiate a compression in the mouth or a small smallow?  All these things played into what I chose to look for when going into my blocking pass...

I unfortunately don’t have my first pass of this scene with me, couldn’t find it, but its worth mentioning anyways...since it was my first go with the animation of the scene coming out of my blocking pass.

At the time, a lot of folks at the studio were capturing a high level realism that they had went for on Rise of the Guardians, and I was constantly seeing animation with all these tiny micro movements and tiny little eye darts that felt so damn nice and sophisticated.

I wanted to try and get that into this scene, so I meticulously looked at the tiny little adjusts in the body and worked that in.  Showed it to the director and got the note ‘he looks like a marionette puppet’  which he did!  It could have been for many reasons..bad animation, movement of the body that wasn't being driven correctly by the eyes and facial performance...but I'd like to think it was because of his design...ha!  Because everyone knows its never any of us animators faults, now is it?!

But to speak to the design quickly..his overall shape and proportion wasn't meant for that type of movement.  I mean, his head was pretty much as big as his torso, so having it wiggle around just made it feel light, and fake.  The weight of his head compared to the weight of MY head has a HUGE difference there!  The movement had to be interpreted differently.  So I went in and thickened everything up, while still trying to keep the subtlety.  Here’s how it came out

So copying to exact from your reference, without any interpretation regarding the design of the character or the style of the show, just won’t work.

Remind yourself when your going off of reference for your scene, that your trying to capture the essence of what the performance is, not the details.  The details are the icing on the cake.  I mean, imagine having to draw all those tiny micro-movements in 2d animation, your lines would be squiggling all over the place and it’d look like Mr. Katz or Home movies (if anyone knows those shows from back in the day).  Always ask yourself how you would have approached the scene if you needed to draw it rather than use a computer, and what few key things you would need to have focused on to get the performance right.  Keep it simple and clean, and your scene will practically, and hopefully, lay itself out for you and be a joy to animate.

Here is the lighting....take care!


Thursday, January 8, 2015


When I got word that I’d be working on this seq, and after hearing Patrick Warburtons dialogue, which was quite over the top and already felt like it was animating itself, I had a good sense of how I wanted this character to be.  I instantly thought of a hyped up football coach, like John Goodman from Revenge of the Nerds. 

Here's the layout 

For this shot I wasn’t overly concerning about starting with thumbnails or rough ideas of poses.  At times you’ll have those in mind right when you get a shot, other times I find it useful to work yourself into the character, and the moment, and see what comes out of your acting through reference.   For this scene I knew the character was probably a heavy breather, pumped up full of adrenaline, and ready to inspire his troops, so before I began shooting I jumped up and down, ran around in place, hit myself on the head like some roid’ed out dude, whatever I could do to get into the breath of the character and the state he’s in.

Practice your scene, figure out your marks, tape them down if you have to, know where you need to look, and try to get the camera as close to the composition of the scene as possible.   It doesn’t need to be exact, but you just want to get as much information from the reference as possible.

I shot this scene for quite a long time, and typically like to shoot until I feel like I’m exhausting the same ideas over and over again, then I’ll review the takes, find some things I like, and build on those…trying to hit them with the right timing for the right beats and make them feel natural.  I’ll typically have loads of footage that I cut down to a handful of takes, and from there look at them all again back to back and see what I feel works best.  What I typically look for is something natural, that lends itself to the scene and doesn’t look like you’ll have to force it in or work too hard to try and make it feel right.  I ended up combining two different takes for the first scene above.  

The layout didn’t have Aggamemnon coming up so close to camera, but I felt it we should see the intensity in his eyes, something I remember from John Goodmans performance. 

Here’s the whole run of the scene in reference, just so you can see me making a fool of myself in context.  This is what I’ll show to the director to get a buy off on my ideas and intentions for the shot.  In this case, he ended up changing the length of the end beat for the shot where he comes up close to camera, and wanted us to stay with him while he was in close for the beginning of the next line  (which was nice because he liked my ideas, but I was really liking the beginning of the following scene and hated losing it, but ah well)

After I get the go ahead from the director, I’ll start looking for my keys in the reference.  Your always looking for your key poses, but also the movement in and out of the key poses, that makes the intent of the shot work.  Do you do a double bounce thats key to the acting, does your head jet forward or lead a turn.  For this scene I had about 20 or so keys that I ended up using.  They aren't my extreme poses, or some call em golden poses, there's only a few of those..these are the basic movement I was trying to capture

Now that I have my keys for the scene, I’ll do some thumbnails

It’s important for me to take note of whats going on.  Thats all thumbnails really are, they’re notes.  Scribbling down whats going on, be it in your reference or ideas you have in your head.  I need to know what I’m doing and when, how things are moving, what type of arcs I may be making, what’s an ‘UP’, whats a ‘DOWN’, when does my head turn, does my neck push out as my head turns the other way, etc etc. You could just look at the reference keys and go off those, but its important to know your scene in and out, and know what you plan to do before you do it.  I also find it really helpful to figure out how I want to interpret those poses onto the characters design and make some drawings that inspire what I’m wanting to do with my poses

Once I know what I’m intending to do, I’ll start in on blocking.  Its important to keep your blocking simple, and clean.  I’ll find the few poses I plan on hitting, and spend a little more time crafting the look of those (but not down to every detail as the ideas may change).  With the movement though I like to use as few controls as possible, mainly the body root for rotations, translations (like moving forward or my ups and downs), but no overlapping action or breaking of joints or finger details, unless of course its important to the acting of the shot.  Only put in what you need to sell your idea.  Don’t worry about technical things like FK/IK, parenting, etc etc.  Its okay to rough that stuff in and tie it down later when your ready to commit to the performance.

After I get the buy off from the director, I’ll take it out of blocking into my first pass.  This is typically more for myself, setting the scene up so I can finish it cleanly and won’t have to still be muscling through movements that don’t make sense technically when I’l trying to do a polishing pass.  

This is a bit more advanced, I wasn’t able to find my first pass of this scene so this actually has a bit more detail than I typically want in.  This is more of what I’d show the director as a full animation pass, but not a final, far from it.  You want to make sure in your first pass that your honoring what sparked and worked well in your blocking.  So often animators lose what made their blocking work so well, just because they started ‘splining’ their curves.  I hate the word ‘splining’ by the way, it sounds so computery.  I like thinking of it as tying down my animation, or flushing it out.  You can have really great blocking, but it can easily turn to shit if you lose track of what you were capturing in your blocking, or stepped pass.

Again, with the directors buy off of the current look of the scene, and once your approved to move it forward and finish it up, you want to now do all the small details that you want to have in there, as the scene shouldn’t change at this point (but it still sometimes does).  I’ll start to round out my arcs, check my spacing, hitches, making sure its nice and organic and fleshy.  I’ll usually do the secondary motion and props, overlapping actions, small bits of settles and micro-movements..anything you can get in there, that again doesn’t take away from the intent of the shot, but just makes it look sexy.  

here's the final version of the scene, with all the lovely cfx, lighting, and sound

and there ya go.  :)